A year ago, my family and I stayed for a few days in a flat in the 10th Arrondissement, Paris. On the opposite side of the street from us was some famous graffiti … you hardly notice the doors and windows.
Is graffiti a kind of visual tweeting?
Why do I notice somethings more than others? Of all I choose to see on my daily walks, why do I register particular images. Is it the clash of messages that interrupts my day dreaming? Does it remind me of something new? Is it the shock of the unexpected?
This caught my eye and made me react from ” Ah” to “Aha” and then, “Nah!” I took the photo from the road, outside a large army barracks.
The ideas that popped into my head at the time, ran from “lamentations of swans” in my last post, to love, to loss, to funerals, to escape and finally to how soldiers might feel driving past and looking up at this sign!
Other signs evoke memories.
For a few years I used to run miles in a country town with the Hash House Harriers every Monday night. Arrows marked the route we had to follow.
Sometimes, one glance and I’m transported into a story I have told over the years. This is the colour of the African earth under The Udala Tree, in a collection by Margaret Read Macdonald.
Sometimes what I see raises questions I can’t answer. It’s not my question. Whose is it? Who is she?
And I can’t help wondering why they painted this here. Who did? What does it mean?
Perhaps Nasrudin Hodja can throw some light on this …
Late one night, Hodja was slowly walking back to his village. Suddenly, he was aware of the sound of galloping horses. When the moon came out from behind a cloud, He saw a troop of horsemen heading towards him at speed. As he stood there, he saw himself, in a flash, being captured by slave traders, sold in a land faraway … never to see his family again.
Turning swiftly, he clambered up and over the nearest wall. Finding himself in a graveyard, he ran up to the nearest hole and lay in it very still … hardly breathing.
The men, who’d seen him bolt, were puzzled by this and came to find him. As they peered down at him, they saw Hodja was shaking.
“Are you alright?” they asked. “Do you need help?” No reply. “What are you what doing in that grave?”
“Just because you ask a question,” stammered Hodja, “doesn’t mean there’s a straight-forward answer!” Realising they were honourable men, and that he had been a bit over-dramatic, he added that an answer depended on how you looked at the question.
The real truth, he explained, was simply this. “I am here because you are, and you are here because I am.”
(Adapted from Shah 1973:16)
MacDONALD, Margaret Read. Twenty Tellable Tales: audience participation folktales for the beginning storyteller. H.W. Wilson, 1986.
SHAH, Idries. The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin. London, Pan, 1966.
All text, except quotes marked, & photos ©MegPhilp
Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is © under Australian Law
As a storyteller I imagine that the characters in the story I am telling are real. I can see them in my mind’s eye. They have human qualities. As I prepare a story for retelling, I’m often stopped in my tracks wondering “Why did they do this … and not that?
There’s a Sufi story Idriess Shah retells about a group of villagers discovering something they’d never seen before in the middle of their wheat field. They thought it was a monster and ran for their lives.
Life does bring the unexpected. Wandering in a garden, I wondered what made gardeners do this?
Then one day, a knowing stranger came along. When he crept up to investigate the monster he saw it was a watermelon. But pretending he was a brave warrior, he jumped up and killed it : chopped it to pieces. The villagers were amazed. When he then began to eat it noisily, they were horrified and feared they might be next! So they chased him away from their village.
This world is full of differences; new; strange; unfamiliar.
Why did they leave these behind? Did they have fun stomping on the cans?
“What possessed the makers to dye these cheeses?
Recently, my sister told me she’d watched the completion of beautiful mural near the Paris flat where we were staying. Next day, what I saw wasn’t what I expected. Why did he do this?
Some days later another traveller walked into the village and heard about their monster in the wheat field. When he saw how frightened they were, he crept to the field alongside them and having seen the watermelon, said they were right to be afraid and together they ran back to the village. He stayed with them for a while and every day, bit by bit, he told them all the facts that he knew about watermelons … until the time came when the villagers were no longer afraid and they started cultivating those strange fruits themselves.
Thankfully, characters’ motives in folktales are made really obvious. Balance must be restored and problems solved in a shortened space of time . Each character’s desires are made clear from the beginning. They want to change, to go out and seek their fortune : to move from ill fortune to good fortune, from fear to confidence, from doubt to trust. They want to live well.
When observing people’s actions in real life, their motivation is not so easy to fathom.
Perhaps that’s why people tell stories. By learning from a safe distance what others feel like – through the story’s characters, their choices and possibilities for action – we are learning how to live well, together, before any “monsters” appear.
I can learn about myself and others by putting myself in the character’s place. As the poet W.H Auden once said,
The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.
What do you think?
All text, except quote, and photos by Meg
NB. I read this Idries Shah’s story recently but I can’t remember where. You can find Sufi stories in his collections like –
Tales of the Dervishes: teaching-stories of the Sufi Master over the past thousand years, London, Octagon Press, 1982
Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Be you, be yourself, be happy being who you are
The ultimate guide for independent travellers seeking inspiration, advice and adventures beyond their wildest dreams
where would-be writer works with words